When it comes to a traditional Easter dinner, wine pairings are fairly simple.
Meals for the day generally take a "lamb-and-ham" direction, says Michelle Powers, director of catering and sales at the Bald Headed Bistro in Cleveland, Tenn., and both meats have specific needs when it comes to selecting the proper wine.
"Lamb is, I always say, a great excuse to open a big bottle of wine," says Powers, who has taken courses to earn the designation as a certified wine specialist. "Lamb is such a flavorful dish, it's a red meat and it has a really strong flavor to it, so the best pairing is a very red, fruit-forward wine. The best wine for that is younger merlot or a tempranillo or it's going to be a cabernet sauvignon."
The seasonings that traditionally go with lamb -- rosemary, thyme, garlic and the like -- also are strong flavors, so they need a big-shouldered red to stand up to them, too, says Powers, who has been at Bald Headed for about a year after spending 10 years at a Four Seasons Resort in Hawaii.
However, the wine needs change if, instead of the usual leg or shoulder of lamb, you're making roast lamb or lamb stew, she says. For those, "you're going to want to go with something a little more spicy, a zinfandel."
Ham, on the other hand, is completely different, she says. Most folks in this area make a glazed ham, using pineapple or honey. In this wine pairing, you should put sweet with sweet, and choose a good bottle of Riesling or gerwurztraminer or even a rose champagne, she says.
1. Bake cake batter (recipe in story) in a Bundt pan, let cool. Put cream-cheese icing in a plastic sandwich bag, cut one corner tip off bag. Squeeze icing out to drizzle across cake top or swirl loops over cake.
2. Cook batter in cupcake pan. Ice cupcakes with cream cheese icing. Use a Wilton tip No. 233 with green-colored icing, working in upward strokes to make edible "grass." Decorate with jelly beans or chocolate eggs on top.
3. To make carrot-cake flower pots, buy silicone baking flower pots (can be found at Target) and bake batter inside the pots. When cool, top with cream cheese icing then dip in crushed Oreos for "dirt." Using orange icing in a baggie, cut one corner tip off bag, squeeze icing in circular motion to "mound up" a carrot. Top carrot with fresh stalk of mint.
When the family celebrates Easter this weekend, what are you bringing to the table?
You could make a big impression with a rosemary-studded leg of lamb whose aroma is as appealing as the colorful vegetables served with it. How about a time-saving side dish that's a family tradition? Or a dessert that's fun for children to decorate?
Three local chefs share favorite Easter recipes with readers today that fit these requirements.
• Why she chose this recipe: "This dish bridges both Easter and Passover and is so delicious. Spring and lamb are intertwined in our holiday traditions.
"There is nothing like the aroma of lamb roasting with herbs, garlic and olive oil. I roasted a Sequatchie Cove lamb leg, one of the finest, mildest lambs ever.
"This recipe is easy, it's fun and kids can help if they like. It looks pretty when it's studded with rosemary. You can vary the vegetables; for example, if you love asparagus, just tuck some into the roast for 10 or so minutes before it's ready to come out. If you love artichokes, they can be added when the potatoes are added."
Garlic & Rosemary Leg of Lamb With Roasted New Potatoes
1 leg of lamb, bone in, about 6 to 7 pounds
1 head of garlic
Sprigs of fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
Sprinkle of coriander
Splash of red wine
2 pounds new potatoes, scrubbed
Several sticks of celery, 1 onion to form a bed for the lamb legs to roast upon
Cup of red wine
Cup of chicken stock
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Splash lamb leg with red wine and rub with olive oil.
With a paring knife, make a dozen or so small slits in the flesh of the lamb leg. Insert the cloves of garlic and tuck a small sprig of rosemary in the same spot. Do this on each side of the leg; sprinkle with a dusting of coriander.
Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Wrap the bone end of the leg with foil, to protect it in the oven.
Place the sticks of vegetables in a roasting pan (or just use a screen) and lay the lamb on it, roasting all for about 30 minutes.
Scatter the potatoes around the lamb leg. Turn down oven to 325 and continue roasting for around an hour for medium rare, or until the center of the roast registers 145 degrees. (Be careful that the thermometer doesn't touch the bone).
Remove from the pan and allow to rest 10 to 15 minutes before carving.
Position the pan over stove burners, and add wine and stock to the pan to deglaze, scraping to release any browned bits. Check for seasoning. The vegetables should be quite soft and can be strained for the sauce before serving.
Orange Glazed Root Vegetables
6 carrots, cut on the oblique
3 parsnips, cut on the oblique
2 beets, cut in 1/4-inch slices
2 slices fresh ginger, cut into coins
Fresh orange juice to cover
1/2 teaspoon salt
Fresh pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons green onions, sliced
Put the vegetables in a saucepot, cover with the orange juice and bring to a ripping boil.
Continue to boil until the juice has nearly evaporated and the vegetables are still crunchy but not mushy, or until they are done to your liking. If you are worried that they will overcook, remove them at the midway point and reduce the juice until syrupy.
Remove ginger coins. Add butter, mustard, honey, lemon and green onions, toss together and serve.
Mount Vernon Restaurant
• Why she chose this recipe: "Growing up, we always had asparagus for Easter. My grandfather was Greek, so we had roast leg of lamb with orzo, asparagus and always a big Greek salad.
"Asparagus is one of the first spring vegetables. I like this recipe because it is very easy and much of it can be done ahead of time."
3 pounds fresh asparagus
Wash and trim woody ends of asparagus. Cook in boiling water until tender (about 8 to 10 minutes).
1/2 cup butter
1 cup bread crumbs
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
Salt to taste
Brown bread crumbs in butter over medium heat. Add lemon rind, salt and sprinkle on hot asparagus. Serves 12.
Sweet Angel Cakes
• Why she chose this recipe: "This recipe was handed down from my grandma, Anna LaPenna, who passed away when I was young. When relatives found out I was making cakes, they all started mailing me her old recipes. I have the original handwritten recipe for this cake that my grandma wrote on a calendar page dated Saturday, Jan. 14, 1961.
"We make this for family functions and special occasions. Carrot cake for Easter is as traditional as it comes."
Grandma Lapenna's Carrot Cake
3 cups sugar
11/2 cups oil
2 cups mashed carrots
3 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped nuts and 3/4 cup raisins (optional)
Mix sugar, oil, eggs and mashed carrots well in large bowl. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and optional ingredients, if desired. Stir until blended.
Bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes in a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan.
Ice with your favorite cream-cheese icing recipe or buy canned icing.
Note: Four small jars of carrot baby food may be substituted for mashed carrots.